LETTER TO A MUSLIM STUDENT is the English translation of a letter that Hasan al-Banna, (1906-1949), born in Egypt into a family of scholars, wrote to a student who was studying in the West with his wife. The sincere advice contained in this letter is drawn from the perennial values and ethos of Islam. It reminds the addressee, and indeed all Muslims, that the first and foremost goal in a Muslim’s life is to please God and live in accordance with His sacred law. Also, it brings home that studying ought not to be an end in itself or for seeking material gain; a Muslim ought to excel in his or her study in order to work for Islam and benefit humanity.
My brother in Islam (whom may Allah guard and protect):
I praise Allah for there is no god but Him. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad, who was sent as a mercy to all of humanity, upon his family, Companions and on all those who hold fast to the Shari’a1, until the Day of Judgement.
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you when you travel with a proper intention and a noble purpose, and when you return with a sound endeavor and to a dedicated cause.
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you as you serve Islam with the finest fruits of science and the best of knowledge.
Dearest brother, you will be amongst people you have not known before and characters you are not accustomed to. In you they will see the example of a Muslim. So make sure they see in you the best example and the finest image, in order for them to understand that the word ‘Muslim’ embodies virtue and nobility.
With you is a precious trust, that is your righteous wife, appreciate this. Towards her be a trustworthy companion. Provide her with comfort and happiness. Share with her felicity, without being careless in acquiring your rights and negligent in performing your duties.
Read these few words that are borne out by my love and sincerity for you, as an elder brother expressing for his brother and sister the best wishes and the happiest life.
1. O my brother, excel in your observance of Allah (swt)2 in all your dealings. Understand that He (swt) keeps watch over you, sees you and encompasses all that is of concern to you wherever you are. He knows the treachery of your eyes and all that your heart conceals. Strive not to let Allah (swt) see you, except that He is pleased with you.
Do not be unmindful in your observance of the One (glorified and exalted is He), otherwise Satan will infiltrate you and you will be overcome by the whispers of your whims and desires. Believe, my dearest brother, that whenever a heart is conscious of Allah’s observance, it will never be approached by Satan. However, once it departs from Allah’s awareness, evil will be attracted to it and it will be inhabited by whims and desires. So, consolidate your heart with the observance of Allah and in vigil seek refuge from your surroundings and do not be among the unmindful.
2. Perform the obligatory duties which Allah has enjoined upon you, at their appointed times. Do not neglect them by relying on performing them at a later time, because you are busy with work or resorting to other excuses for justification. This is a deception of your own self and of your own whims:
And follow not desire that it beguile you from the way of Allah (Quran 38:26)
Understand also my dearest brother that no one draws nearer to Allah with anything more beloved to Him than performing the obligatory duties as stated in the hadith of al-Bukhari3. So be aware not to neglect your obligatory duties or feel lazy in performing them; they are Allah’s right over you.
Be steadfast in prayer and perfect your fast. If you are in a state of complete inability to fast, then according to the saying of Allah (swt) you have a remission:
… For those who are capable of fasting with difficulty (but still do not fast) there is a redemption: feeding a needy man for each day missed. Whoever, voluntarily, does more good than is required, will find it is better for him; and that you should fast is better for you, if you only knew. (Quran 2:184)
But be aware not to take this verse as an excuse for falling short. Fasting with hardship in the homeland of the West will earn you a valuable reward and be an asset to your account; it is pleasing to your Lord and righteous to yourself. So do not attempt to break the fast, unless you are unable to complete it.
I need not advise you, any further, towards your obligatory duties, after all they are your capital. Can you imagine one who has wasted his capital, what will his state be amongst tomorrow’s profit makers?
3. Spend whatever time you can in performing supererogatory works as duties of obedience. Perform the Sunna prayers. Increase your appeal for forgiveness and the praising of your Glorified Lord. Remember, that one’s supplication, during travel or in expatriation4, will be answered; hence, increase your supplication in secret and in humility.
Continue your remembrance of Allah (swt). The Prophet (saw)5 advised ‘Ali (ra) to continuously dampen his tongue in the remembrance of Allah6. Do not abandon that path which leads you to nothing but duties and obedience, they are like an investment that multiply rewards. The remembrance of Allah amongst the unmindful nations is like a shining light. So make use of this time, for it is a season to harvest the rewards of the Hereafter, only for those who wish to seize the opportunities and benefit from such seasons.
4. Increase your recitation of the Glorious Quran with understanding and deliberation. It is a healing for the soul and a comfort to the heart. Designate from it a portion to read at the beginning of the day and a portion to read at the end of it, hence the best beginning and the best end.
5. In the delights of life and pleasures of the world, you will see that which inclines the heart, impresses the mind, attracts the eye and bewilders those whose spirits are weak. Do not let these seduce you away from virtue and cause you to forget the Hereafter:
Do not turn your eyes covetously towards the embellishments of worldly life that We have bestowed upon various kinds of people to test them. But the clean provision bestowed upon you by your Lord is better and more enduring.
Enjoin Prayer on your household, and do keep observing it We do not ask you for any worldly provision; rather: it is We Who provide you. The ultimate end is for piety. (Quran 20:131-2)
Be aware my dearest brother that in the sight of Allah (swt) all these pleasures weigh not even the wing of a gnat and lead neither to honor nor virtue. They are nothing but the manifestations of whims and pitfalls of seduction. So be careful not to let Satan deceive you, otherwise you will plunge into the abyss of sin and corruption. Always remember the words of Allah (swt):
Men are naturally tempted by the lure of women, children, treasures of gold and silver, horses of mark, cattle, and plantations. These are the enjoyments in the life of this world; but with Allah lies a goodly abode to return to. (Quran 3:14)
The Book of Allah recites these facts day and night. So do not be amongst those who favor the worldly life over the Hereafter, or amongst those deceived by the outward appearance of things without considering their essence. All pleasures brought by contemporary civilization will result in nothing other than pain – A pain that will overwhelm their enticement and remove their sweetness.
So avoid the worldly aspects of these people; do not let it take over your command and deceive you, if you are to be among the successors.
6. Dearest brother, what Allah has made Haram (unlawful) for us, those people consider it as Halal (lawful) for them. Hence, when they commit a Haram (unlawful) act, they will neither feel ashamed nor will they refrain from perpetrating it. You should neither agree with their whims nor mix with them in their sins. Otherwise, you will not be relieved from having to answer before Allah (swt) and it will not hold as an excuse on the Day of Judgement.
7. Do not take their women for company, and do not let there develop between you and them, any special friendship or any emotional relationship. If this kind of socializing is a sin for those other than you, then it is a sin twice as great for you and you know well the meaning of this.
Although you are known to us to be one that is trustworthy and decent, I have mentioned this to you, to caution you against the downfalls of sins so that your feet may never slip. And in your chastity let there be content and in your dignity let there be adequacy.
8. As for alcohol, do not approach it. And do not use the climate as an excuse, because when Allah made it Haram (unlawful), He had full knowledge about all types of climate but did not exclude one country from another or one nation from another from this prohibition. Allah (swt) made it forbidden with neither doubt nor exception. So be aware not to let it occupy a part of your abdomen, otherwise it will remain as a black spot on its pure skin.
Be determined as much as possible before the first drink. Because once your mind is concealed by it, you will follow it by the second and third drink, whereby you will have fallen into a pit, difficult to escape from and will have incriminated yourself and others. Then, even if you expiated this sin with repentance, you would still not match your original purity and superb credibility.
9. Do not taste anything in those restaurants which serve Haram (unlawful) food, like pork and dead meat. In that which is Halal (lawful) you have a substitute and enough for contentment. So do not taste the Haram (unlawful) and do not let your flesh grow on it, otherwise fire is what it deserves. Allah (swt) has prohibited that which is impure:
… He enjoins upon them what is good and forbids them what is evil … (Quran 7:157)
So leave that which is bad for that which is good.
10. As for casinos, night-clubs, and other such places of vanity, your time is far too precious to be wasted in them.
I have looked into the saying, ‘time is made of gold’, and I do not approve of it. Time is far more precious than gold, for time is life. Is it not true that your life is nothing but a few hours and you never know when they will end? Dearest brother, be stringent with your time and do not spend it except in that which is significant, and acquire pleasure in that which is lawful.
In the heavens there is calmness and on the earth there is beauty. In the gardens there is freshness and in you there is a sign. In the sea there is might and in the air there is nourishment. Take from all this comfort for your soul and recovery for your mind. And do not waste your time by being unmindful, this will shield you from good and lead you to evil.
11. Be critical, with insight, and be just and well acquainted with people. Do not let your goodness draw you to forget their bad, and their bad hurt you to forget their goodness. Rather, study them as would a researcher and an examiner7.
Encompass with knowledge all of their affairs, and then with an eye of insight, scrutinize it all. Present back the good that you find to your people and nation, and return with it victorious and supported. Other than that, throw it back on them and do not come back until you have dusted off your hands and emptied your mind of it all.
You will find there a group of people dishonoring your Prophet (saw), faulting your Quran and disgracing your people. Do not sit with such people, until they turn to a different theme, even if it is necessary for you to enter into a dialogue with them8.
Argue with them in the best manner. Explain to them the good that you know and avoid controversies that lead to hatred and sedition (fitna).
Lo! You (O Muhammad) guide not whom you love, but Allah guides whom He will. And He is best aware of those who walk aright. (Quran 28:56)
Dearest brother, be aware that calling the people through practical example is far better than calling them through speech9. It is far more fruitful and beneficial to use your commendable character, the perfection of yourself and your straight manner to defend and call them to your religion and nation.
Whenever an opportunity arises for you to deliver a speech or a lecture at one of their meeting places or societies, prepare yourself for it. Choose that which will not stir disorder and that which will not offend integrity10.
Do not be apprehended by their stance, because Allah’s aid is with those who are sincere. Be positive and do not insult other people’s beliefs instead, elucidate to them their innate goodness and reveal to them our beliefs. By doing so, you will have adequately promoted awareness and incentive.
Finally, and there is still so much for me to say and I would have loved to continue this advice with you, yet my concern is that if I prolong this discourse any more, you may forget most of what I have said; for over speaking does distract one from what is being said.
For both of you then, may Allah raise you to be the best of the successors and may His safety accompany you. May He protect both of you and return you in goodness, as is wished by those who are sincere. I entrust to Allah your religion, your obligations and the outcome of your actions. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you.
Islamic Law (Jurisprudence).
Glorified and exalted is He.
On the authority of Abu Huraira (ra), who reports that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: Allah (swt) said: ‘Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.’ (Bukhari)
On the authority of Abu Huraira (ra), who reports that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘Three kinds of prayers are to be granted without an iota of doubt: the prayer of an oppressed person, the prayer of a traveler and the prayer of a father for his son.’ (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
May the blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad (saw).
On the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Busr (ra) it is reported that a man requested the Prophet (saw): ‘O messenger of Allah. The Islamic edicts appear to me a bit too much, so kindly tell me something (lighter and easier) which I should hold fast to.’ He (saw) answered: ‘Let your tongue remain busy constantly with the remembrance of Allah.’ (Tirmidhi)
On the authority of Abu Huraira (ra) who reports that the Prophet of Allah (saw) said: ‘People are like mines of gold and silver. Those of them who are best before Islam are best in Islam, if they understand; and the spirits are like gathering armies, among those who are similar in qualities, they get mixed up with each other and those who are not, they drift away from each other.’ (Bukhari and Muslim).
Allah has enjoined upon you in the Book that when you hear the signs of Allah being rejected and scoffed at, you will not sit with them until they engage in some other talk, or else you will become like them. Know well, Allah will gather the hypocrites and the unbelievers in Hell all together. (Quran 4:140)
O you who believe! Why say you that which you do not? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that you say that which you do not. (Quran 61:2-3)
‘All ibn Abi Talib (ra) said: ‘Speak to the people about that which they can comprehend, otherwise you run the risk of making people disbelieve in God and His Messenger.’ (Bukhari) According to ‘Abdullah ibn Masud (ra) the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘Whenever you speak to the people of something their mind cannot comprehend, it could lead some of them towards Fitna (disbelief or doubt).’ (Muslim)